This was my 8th cruise, and my second on Holland America. I'd been previously pleased with our cruise experience on the Rotterdam in 2002, and this led me to book on the Westerdam for this cruise. I was travelling with my wife, two children (9 and 11), and family friends with their children (19 and 12). I'll try to cover our thoughts in categories:
EMBARKATION: We had a really early flight, so when we arrived at the pier at 11AM, they were still disembarking passengers from the prior cruise. Turn-around was quick, though, and they opened the doors for embarking passengers at 11:30. Took about 15 minutes from there, with lots of agents available. We were suite passengers with priority embarkation, but others in line with us with regular cabins were embarking just as quickly. There was a short wait in the pier waiting room, and then on to the ship at 12 Noon sharp.
CABIN: Both us and our friends were booked into Deluxe Verandah Suites via a great deal that we got online about 6 months ago. We'd travelled in a suite on the Rotterdam, so we knew what the taste of "suite life" would be - with priority services, concierge, private lounge and lots of other "perks." We were not disappointed on this cruise. Cabin was large (500 sq. feet), very clean, with LOTS of storage space in drawers and closets. Great bathroom, with two sinks, jacuzzi tub and separate shower. The veranda was large, with two lounge chairs and a table with 4 side chairs. We were quite comfortable, even with our kids. Cabin steward was wonderful, attending quickly, quietly and efficiently with all our needs.
SUITE LIFE: If you can spend the money, travelling in a HAL suite (PS, SA, SB, or SC) is the way to go. The private lounge (Neptune Lounge) was stocked with a cappuccino/espresso machine, juices, ice tea and a wide variety of hors d'oeuvres throughout the day. Continental breakfast was available in the Neptune every day. The Concierges (2) were FANTASTIC - all shore excursion bookings and Pinnacle grill bookings could be done in the Neptune Lounge via the concierges - no need to go to the Front Desk ever.
FOOD: We were all pleased with the quality and variety of the food in the main restaurant (Vista Restaurant). Portions were of good size, though not "oversized" as we've seen on other cruises. Special requests were welcomed (I asked for, and received, "Turf and Turf" on "Surf and Turf" night, since I don't like lobster.) Our table steward appeared "new" to his job and got a bit flustered/disorganized on occasion, but the assistant steward and VERY attentive head waiter made up for the table stewards foibles.
The Pinnacle Grill was outstanding - steaks and lamb to die for - with very nice portions for a "specialty"/"gourmet" restaurant. It's well worth the $30 additional fee for a special dinner or two.
The Lido Restaurant was fine - very typical of other cruises we'd been on. Good variety, decent food quality. Nothing to go crazy about (though my kids loved the pizza and ice cream), but nothing to complain bitterly about either!!
ENTERTAINMENT: We avoided the "in-house staff" song-and-dance shows, as we've never really enjoyed them in the past. The outside entertainers were very good - comedian Jim Labriola, a fantastic illusionist/comic Leo Ward and a comic/ventriloquist. There were also movies in the Queen's Lounge in the late evening, with popcorn provided. Screen there was a bit small, though, as it's not really a dedicated movie theater.
We attended one "Culinary Demonstration" in the Queen's Lounge, which is one of the features of HAL's "Signature of Excellence". My wife enjoyed it, but could have passed on it. I was bored, and frustrated that they ran out of tasting samples after only the front half of the audience got served. They need to work on this.
PORTS OF CALL: In my opinion, the ports of call are really what you make of them, so I'm not going to spend a lot of time here. A few highlights:
Half Moon Cay - HAL's private island. VERY nice. Clean, beautiful, powder-soft sand. Lunch barbecue by the ship's galley on the island. Lots of excursions available, but we were happy sitting on the beach and swimming in the crystal waters.
Grand Turk - A new destination, with a "cruise-port" complex that has been funded and built by Carnival Corporation for the express use of their different lines' ships. The beach was nice, the shops contrived and over-priced. There's a trip to "town" (Cockburn Town) - but there's little if anything to see or do there. I took my daughter on a FANTASTIC snorkel excursion by boat, though. Grand Turk waters were crystal clear and loaded with great fish.
Grand Cayman - Nice place for snorkeling or going to Seven Mile Beach. To me, though, Georgetown (the port) is a tourist trap - with so-called "bargains" that you can do better on in the USA (even WITH tax). Though tolerable, the town was very crowded with >14,000 passengers on the 6 ships that were there that day. We only spent a few hours on land - preferring to go back to the ship for relative peace and quiet.
Costa Maya - Another "cruise-port" complex that seems to have been build to cater to tourists and "bargain-hunters". There are some "local" merchants here, though, and so you can find some unique souvenirs. We did a "Mayan Reality Tour" excursion that was interesting, but that had too much "bus time" and was probably not great value for the $80 per person that we paid.
CHILDREN: There were about 50 kids 5yrs - 12yrs on the ship. Club HAL had a very "slow" start on the first two days - we almost felt like the counselors were discouraging us from dropping the kids off. But then when things got rolling, our kids really enjoyed their time there on the last 5 days of the cruise. It overall compared favorably to the kid's programs on other cruises we've been on.
DISEMBARKATION: Smooth and well-coordinated. No complaints here.
OVERALL: A great experience. Medium-large ship with 1850 passengers, but lots of space and never felt "crowded". Good age range - clearly a number of elderly folks, but lots of middle-agers with kids, and quite a few younger couples/groups. It seemed like there was something for everyone to enjoy. Would do it again in a heart-beat!!!